Friday, January 11, 2013

Chivalry: Respect vs. Inferiority

Chivalry can be understood by women with a strong sense of self. I realize that women who struggle with an inferiority complex will see chivalry as condescension. However, chivalry is about respect, not inferiority. From Mary Beth Bonacci:
I like chivalry.

Yes, I admit it. I know I’m not supposed to, but I actually like it when men open doors for me, and take my coat, and do all of those other little things that modern feminism says I should find horrifying and offensive. I know it’s supposed me make me feel belittled and patronized, but instead I find it makes me feel special, and feminine, and even protected and somehow treasured.

Is that so wrong?

I get their thinking—that doing little things for women implies that we are incapable of doing them for ourselves. And so, chivalry has been called “benevolent sexism,” with those nice men stooping down to assist us helpless little women-folk.

If that’s what chivalry really was, I’d resent it, too. But that’s not how I see it. Sure, I’m perfectly capable of opening my own doors. But I see it as a sign of respect—for me and for women in general—when a man does that for me. It is an acknowledgement of the politically incorrect truth that men in general are physically stronger than women. By putting that strength at the service of women, a man is signaling that he respects her, and that he has no intention of using it against her.

I have been, I hate to admit, afraid that chivalry is indeed dead—or at least slowly dying. I still see it here are there, mostly among older gentlemen and the younger ones who were raised by those who still care about such things. But for the most part, I see young women charging through doors with an “I can do it myself” attitude, and young men who don’t even comprehend why they would bother reaching out to women in this way.

But then I read in an article in The Atlantic (of all places) calling for a return to chivalry. It quotes Pier Massimo Forni, the founder of the Civility Institute at Johns Hopkins University, as saying that chivalry is “a form of preferential treatment that men once accorded to women generations ago, inspired by the sense that there was something special about women, that they deserve added respect, and that not doing so was uncouth, cowardly and essentially despicable.”

So men are not chivalrous because women are incapable. Men are chivalrous because women are special—because while we lack commensurate physical strength, we are created in the image and likeness of God, and endowed with a special gift for bringing forth and nurturing new life. And men respect that by respecting us. (Read entire post.)


The North Coast said...

I like this sort of chivalry and as a feminist, never had anything against it. I think it is very sweet and give high marks to men who practice it.

However, feminism has introduced the idea that manners work both ways. Most of the people I know here in Chicago, men and women alike, will hold doors for strangers of either sex, and women will give up a seat on transit for elder men or men carrying heavy packages or children. I will also do things like throwing my arm in front of a guy to keep him from stepping in front of a moving auto, or tell him please step back from the edge of the train platform. It's rude not to hold the back door of the bus open for people alighting behind you, whether you're male or female, and most people do it automatically, or hold a door open for some delivery guy wheeling in a huge load into a store. You always relinquish your seat to a pregnant woman or someone incapacitated if you are able-bodied no matter who you are.

I suppose I don't care about being "special" so much as I care about living in a civil society where people all make the effort to be helpful and courteous, especially to people with infirmities or extra burdens.

julygirl said...

I believe men's attitudes toward women changed in a negative way when women stopped expecting to be treated as 'special'